Wayne Rooney has urged England coach Gareth Southgate to give his players “a lot of freedom” in their World Cup round-of-16 game against Colombia, and said the Three Lions can start dreaming about lifting the trophy already.
The Three Lions will face Colombia on Tuesday after advancing from Group G as runners-up with wins over Tunisia and Panama before a defeat to Belgium in which Southgate opted to use his reserves.
A win against Colombia would leave England among as the favourites to reach the final from their side of the bracket, and the Three Lions’ all-time leading goal scorer said the young squad have the ability to take the game to the South Americans.
“They’re good. They’ve got a lot of potential. They’ve been exciting, young, great energy, playing with a lot of freedom,” Rooney said of England’s chances while speaking to ESPN FC on Monday at his introductory news conference with D.C. United.
“I just hope Gareth allows them to do that in this game against Colombia and doesn’t maybe think it’s a knockout game you need to hold back a bit. Let them play. I think they’re enjoying having that freedom. They’re expressing themselves.
“I think sometimes if you take a bit away from that it might hurt us, but I’d say let them play and let them continue to go on.”
Should England reach the quarterfinals, only the likes of Sweden, Switrzerland, Croatia and Russia stand between them and the final.
And asked whether England can start dreaming of glory if they beat Colombia, Rooney said: “I think we should be dreaming now.”
But regardless of the results to come, Rooney also stressed that the fans should get behind the team, which is likely to feature many of the same players at Euro 2020 and the next World Cup.
“It’s early, but whatever happens now in this World Cup — whether we go out tomorrow or we go on and win it — the fans and the media back home, I think they need to get behind these lads.
“I’ve seen it two years ago. I said it two years ago when I was captain of the team: give these lads a bit of time, because I’ve seen the quality and the ability they all had.
“And, again, after this tournament, whatever happens now, get behind them, because in two years’ time, four years’ time, that might be the support that helps them go on and win that trophy.”
Southgate took his share of criticism for opting to make eight changes against Belgium, who won 1-0 to top the group. But Rooney said he had no doubt that Southgate made the correct choice in allowing the likes of Harry Kane to rest for the knockout stage.
“For me, personally, it’s the right decision,” Rooney said. “The result, in my opinion — I can say it now, I’m not [an England] player — the result was the best result for England, I think.
“And maybe that’s been a problem we’ve had the last 15, 20 years as a country: we’re too honest. We sit there and say we want to win every game. This is England. This is how we should play.
“When all the other countries are plotting their way through, I’m sure Gareth would have liked to have kept the momentum going, but sometimes you need to take a step backward to go forward. I believe it was definitely the right decision.”
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